A closer look at AirTurn, a Bluetooth music page turner for iOS and Mac
Traditionally, a musician has had to get a hand away from their instrument to turn the pages of their music. And even with the advent of digital music, turning a virtual page on your iPad is still pretty tricky when you're delivering the performance of a lifetime! Likewise, traditional guitar effects have been on the floor, within easy reach of a foot tap. Virtual effects are difficult to engage if they're on a screen, requiring a finger tap.
The AirTurn is designed to alleviate these problems. It's a simple concept: With the tap of a foot on the AirTurn pedal, you can turn the pages of your virtual music or engage a virtual guitar effects pedal.
Design and Features
The AirTurn BT-105 controller is a small plastic box. On the outside is a tiny on/off/reset button, a status indicator LED, two 3.5mm audio stereo jack inputs (or up to four ports when using stereo/mono splitters) and a micro-USB charger port. On the inside are the lithium polymer battery (which gives you about a 100 hours of usage time) and the electronics that make the AirTurn work. The unit itself is discreet in appearance, compact and lightweight.
The controller comes as standalone or in a two-pedal ($119) or four-pedal ($159) ATFS-2 board variation. The pedals are designed to be super compact, lightweight and quiet when tapped, avoiding any unwanted squeaks or creaks during a performance. The controller is also compatible with Boss FS foot switches and a host of other foot switches and pedals, though not all have been officially tested and recommended by AirTurn. I received a four-pedal review unit.
With both the two- and four-pedal board units, the controller is detachable from the pedal board, so if you fancy a gig with more or fewer pedals, it's possible, though you'll need to buy those pedals separately.
Overall, I'd say the AirTurn is really well-made. In fact, it's made in the USA. But at this price point, I can't shake the feeling of cheap plastic on the actual controller, especially when it's going to live on the floor and come into lots of foot contact. Another little niggle is the on/off/reset button, which I found awkwardly positioned and a little difficult to press if you don't have long finger nails. It would be great to see a more user-friendly button in future models, perhaps placed away from the ports, so it's easier to reach and use.
AirTurn is compatible with Mac and iOS. I decided to test the AirTurn with my iPad. Pairing the AirtTurn to my iPad was super simple, especially since the AirTurn comes with a comprehensive manual to guide you through the process. There's also AirTurn's YouTube page, which has loads of tutorials and how-to guides to get your AirTurn up and running.
First, I had to turn on the AirTurn by pressing the on/off/reset button; I then enabled Bluetooth on my iPad. The AirTurn appeared almost instantly in the list of Bluetooth devices near me. With a tap, the AirTurn paired with my iPad.
From here, I ignorantly thought I'd be able to use the AirTurn to turn virtual pages on just about any app on my iPad, but this is not the case. The AirTurn is compatible with select apps (a comprehensive list can be found here). It's worth checking this list to make sure the apps you use are compatible with the AirTurn.
Another thing to note is that the AirTurn is essentially fooling your iPad into thinking you've got a Bluetooth keyboard paired to it. So when the AirTurn is paired to your iPad, the iPad's virtual keyboard will not appear on screen. However, you can make the keyboard appear by pressing the on/off/reset button on the AirTurn once paired. It's not ideal, but it's also unlikely you'll be typing away while in the middle of a set.
I decided to test out AirTurn with OnSong; a popular set-list and lyric/chord-management app (find out more about OnSong here). With the AirTurn paired to my iPad, I went to OnSong's settings to assign what each of the four pedals would do. I settled with page down, page up, next song and previous song, respectively, but I could assign a number of different commands, like transpose up or down or even toggle backing tracks.
Once setup, I was soon scrolling though songs and easily moving up and down through verses and choruses. My first impression was that it felt really natural to use my foot to direct what I wanted OnSong to do on the iPad.
I was really impressed with just how quiet the pedals are when pressed, though you must be careful not to make a noise when connecting your foot/shoe with the pedals. Like stomping on a wooden floor, doing the same on the AirTurn will make a noise.
I found the pedals to have good travel, with OnSong responding instantly to my taps. However, I did notice that I needed to let the pedal fully depress back up in order for my next down press to register. If I rested my foot on a pedal (similar to when you're playing a sustain pedal on a piano), intending to do repeated downward presses to scroll through the various verses and choruses of a song, I found if I did not lift my foot up off the pedal entirely, to let if fully bounce back, the next downward press would not always register. However, if I consistently lifted my foot off the pedal, the downward press would always register. It's probably something that just takes a bit of getting used to, especially if you're used to using a piano pedal or traditional guitar effects pedals.
It's also worth noting that the AirTurn is only as good as the app it's paired with. While I found the AirTurn to be a great Bluetooth pedal in and of itself, it's not going to shine if paired to a buggy app with poor integration. In that sense, it's up to app developers to take full advantage of what the AirTurn has to offer and make the end-user experience flawless.
In terms of virtual guitar pedal usage, there are just three apps that are compatible with AirTurn at this stage: JamUp XT, Loopy HD and AmpKit+. Unfortunately I was not able to try those apps, but if the integration is as solid as OnSong, the AirTurn will do a stellar job with these apps.
It's also worth noting that the AirTurn is compatible with various other iOS apps for different application, like teleprompters, media players, presenters, etc. Do refer to AirTurn's comprehensive list of compatible apps.
The AirTurn BT-105 is a fantastic Bluetooth controller, particularly when paired with iOS apps that take full advantage of it. It's adaptable, customizable and easy to use. Bar a few niggles with its on/of/reset button and the plastic material used to house the main controller, I found the AirTurn BT-105 to be a solid and seamless Bluetooth controller. And the four-pedal ATFS-2 board turned out to be an ideal accompaniment to the BT-105, giving you quiet, extensive foot-switch control.
For musicians with digital repertoires or complex musical pieces to recite from a digital score, and numerous other applications, the AirTurn BT-105 and four-pedal board are must-haves.
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